The plan for a new causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is excellent news for a number of reasons.
Around 40,000 people cross the existing causeway every day, with around 700,000 users recorded during peak months. The existing causeway is often heavily overcrowded, which deters many potential travelers and causes a problem for commercial vehicles which often have to queue for long periods.
A large part of Bahrain’s economy is based on tourism and a substantial proportion of those tourists are accounted for by Bahrain’s much-larger neighbour – with thousands of Saudi families pouring into Bahrain every weekend.
Many Western expats working in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states chose to base their families in Bahrain and commute, because Bahrain is arguably the most family-friendly country in the region.
However, the attractiveness of commuting into Saudi, tourism across the causeway or using the causeway for trade is strictly limited by the time it takes to get across the existing King Fahad Causeway.
It is humanly possible to leave your home in Bahrain and be in Dammam in Saudi Arabia, in the heart of the Eastern Province’s prosperous oil-producing region in half an hour. However, heavy traffic and hold-ups at passport control can often mean that this journey may take a couple of hours or more.
The King Fahad Causeway dates back to 1986, since which time, the regional population, the number of cars and the level of commercial interactions have increased greatly. The 26 km causeway remains a feat of engineering and is still the longest causeway of its kind in the region.
An additional causeway would make a big difference in speeding up this journey and allowing a greater volume of traffic.
For small businesses that rely on lorries conveying goods between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain this would make travel quicker and therefore more profitable. For Bahraini hotels, restaurants and malls, it would be reasonable to expect a much higher number of foreign visitors. It also makes it far easier to be based in Bahrain but work in various parts of Saudi Arabia – everybody benefits.
This comes at a time when Bahrain is re-shaping its hospitality industry. For example, the recent ban on alcohol in hotels with less than four stars is in part intended to make Bahrain more appealing to families from other parts of the region and to provide an environment more amenable to the expectations of those with children.
Saudi-Bahrain political and economic ties have always been very close. The investment in a new “King Hamad Causeway” shows a long-term commitment from both sides to continue strengthening these ties. This is very much in line with the vision of the GCC and the proposed Gulf Union for raising the prosperity and opportunities for all citizens in the region.